April 15, 2017

The Gospel According to EnChroma

enchromaOkay, so I just spent a good half hour watching Youtube clips of people who are colour blind seeing colours as they really are for the first time after putting on a pair of EnChroma glasses.

There’s a half hour I’ll never get back again.  But to be honest I don’t want to.  It was a half hour well spent. Do yourself a favour and go watch one here.  I challenge you not to watch ten of them in a row.

The word “holy” followed by a variety of mild expletives was a common response, followed by long silences and tears.  Then exhilaration.  Then amazement that the vivid (that word was used a lot) colours that everyone else took for granted were, well, taken for granted!

Gotta say, it brought a tear to my eye too, especially when a man looks into his wife’s eyes for the first time and sees their true colour, or hearing the astonished cry of a young man in a flower nursery: “But they’re so purple!  Is that purple?!”

Or to hear the astonished yelp of a young person as they realise they can distinguish the individual leaves on a tree for the first time ever. “Is that how you see trees?” they gasp, looking around at their delighted friends and family.  It’s the same world they’ve inhabited for so long, but it’s so, so different.

Enchroma glasses are the invention of Don McPherson who has a PhD in glass science (yes, that’s a thing), and you can read about that here.  So we could rationally praise the science of the modern world that has, once again, come up with an invention that solves a common problem.

But those who can’t see red don’t simply want to see red for the sake of their jobs, or because humans are supposed to see red, but because they want to experience the reality of what a beautiful thing red is.  For let’s face it, their lives are perfectly functional before the glasses.  They can get by, live life, work jobs, do relationships, buy stuff, just fine.

But that’s not enough is it?  There’s a yearning for something more.  Shock, awe, tears, a bunch of astonished expletives: these are not the responses of finally knowing what red looks like in any technical sense, but of being moved by the very redness of red.  It’s useless beauty, as Elvis Costello might say; it’s depth, it’s sheer exhilarating existence.

The common response?  “I’m never going to take these off.”

To think that after all this time there was more reality to life, more vividness, more beauty than they imagined possible.  Why had they been so blind to it?  Why hadn’t this happened before?

The Baptist hymn book  back in the day had the hymn Loved With Everlasting Love by Irishman, George Wade Robinson. It had these lines: Heaven above is softer blue. Earth around is sweeter green; Something lives in every hue. Christless eyes have never seen.

And I know he’s embellishing it, gilding the lily so to speak.  But there’s something in it – if we only look.  The gospel – the Jesus of the gospel – gives us that same thing.  It’s the same world, the same stuff, the same sufferings even, but suddenly everything is so different.  There’s a vividness, a colour, to what life is about that you can’t simply reason your way to, but can only experience.  And that’s been my experience in the ups and downs these forty years of following Jesus.

And I forget this.  I forget this as I plod through life and the daily/weekly/monthly have-tos.  Or when I wander down the rabbit warren of the culture war debates thrusting themselves into my face online and in periodicals.  It becomes easy for the truly vivid astonishing reality of the gospel to dull in colour; to fade to grey as I forget to look at the world through the Enchroma glasses of the gospel so to speak.  It becomes easy to think that the colourless world views on offer outside the gospel just don’t have a wow factor to match what Jesus gives us.

I admit I can get pretty jaded in the cut and thrust, the parrying and push-back about whether/how Christianity will flourish in the coming decades in the West.  It’s at times like this I need to put on my Gospel Enchroma glasses and just wow and weep and wonder again.

Maybe that’s what Easter does for us.  Maybe that is why we are called to baptise our people, called to celebrate communion often, called to live life according to a calendar of rich colour and vibrancy.  Maybe that’s the answer to a secular liturgical calendar marked out by End-of-Year-Sales and the political spin cycle.

In our secular frame the vivid Enchroma Gospel of a dying and rising Saviour whose death says we are worse than we feared, but more loved than we could possibly imagine, gives the gospel the “wow” factor; the “holy, holy, holy” response without the mild expletives.   It’s a re-enchantment moment, as Charles Taylor might put it.

And here’s the truly amazing hope. What if the world we see right now in all its blazing colour is but a pale, anaemic, washed out version of the world that is coming? What if the resurrection of Jesus is the multi-coloured firstfruits of a world so saturated in colour that on that final day we will just stand there for the first few million years of eternity, gazing at the never-setting Son and just go “Wow!”?

Would that be such a waste of time?

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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